The most difficult assignment I write is the poem for my mother’s Christmas card. There are several reasons–which I will highlight in future posts–why this recurring task is my most challenging. But, for all my assignments, here is a way I ease the process.
Pray: God needs to be on every page I write. He is not necessarily mentioned by name, but His influence on my heart, mind, and soul must be reflected through my words. Although the other steps in this process are somewhat interchangeable, I have learned this step is best done first. Only then are my words–before they appear on the page–in line with God’s.
Study: Through research, I understand the deeper details of any poem I write. Studying a primary source along with trusted secondary sources is particularly important when writing Christmas poems. Starting with the Bible as my primary source, I seek out a new way to approach the familiar story of Christ’s birth. Secondary sources, such as commentaries and concordances, help me enhance and confirm details. Even as I employ poetic forms, metaphor, and symbolism, I must convey God’s truth to the best of my ability. For example, I needed to understand the meaning of “Shekinah” before placing it in one of the poems within the “While Bethlehem Sleeps” series. More about that discovery in another post.
Observe: Usually, there is a theme within the theme for every Christmas poem. Mom picks a blank card with a front panel depiction from the Christmas story. The poems have focused on angels, sheep, stars, the wise men, Mary, Joseph, Advent words, and so on. In eighteen years, we have repeated a few of these themes. So, another challenge is how to convey that smaller theme within the larger theme in a new way. I find ideas by listening to music of the season, watching people in their holiday activities, or remembering family stories. These and more have assisted in bringing His story and my stories together.
Live: But, life happens. Christmas time is notorious for its hustle and bustle. Finding time to get everything done, never mind finding time to write, seems impossible. So, I use “living life” to my advantage. I think about how the chosen topic relates to my life. “Follow the Star” is one example I will discuss later. I walk the theme out in my mind while doing daily chores and other tasks. Sometimes I need to walk away from the poem entirely and do something else to feel productive. Vacuuming is a great writer’s block buster, by the way.
Plan: The plan for each poem is unique. I construct themes around phrases and pictures. Even the card’s margins and size will affect the structure of the poem. I read and study the craft of poetry. I might try a new poetic form or abandon form completely. But, the goal of writing poetry is the same each time: express in a new way a familiar idea. In this case, how do I retell the Christmas story through poetry?
When I still struggle to find the right words, the best line breaks, the proper tone to express the most accurate depiction? Repeat Step 1!